Monday, December 19, 2011

Can benchmarks limit learning?

The above question came up in a discussion that we were having in a team leaders workshop on assessment recently.  We were talking about assessment for learning and we were discussing whether or not some summative assessments give the message that we're "done" with learning once we've reached the benchmark.  We talked about the importance of giving students feedback through formative assessment so that they are able to answer 3 questions:

  • Where am I going?
  • Where am I now?
  • How can I close the gap?
What we discussed most was this last question - and whether or not it might be better to simply ask:  how can I go further?

In my last year of teaching at NIST I had a student who had been given an unconditional offer to an Australian university.  She basically just had to pass the IB diploma, but was not given a number of points that she had to achieve.  For a while I think she found this rather demotivating - what was the point of working for hours every day, when a simple pass would get her into the university of her choice with less effort?  Eventually she came to realize that the only person she was cheating by this attitude was herself - in the end she wanted to get the best score that she could so that it reflected the effort she had put into her studies over many years.  A student with a different attitude might simply have stopped pushing himself or herself with such an offer, however, and been happier with a lower score.

I'm particularly interested in this question at the moment as our daughter is applying to universities in the UK.  She has received one offer already - it's for a score that she will easily achieve.  I'm curious to know what the other 3 universities will offer, and I'm curious to know which of the 4 she will finally decide to accept as her firm choice.

Photo Credit:  It seemed like a good idea at the time by Woodleywoderworks Attribution 

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